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Promoting diversity


In early October, our university was visited by an NVAO committee within the context of the Institutional Audit Quality Assurance (ITK). A visit that could seriously affect the future of TU/e. For three days, staff members and students did their best to answer the questions from the committee members. They are the ones who will eventually decide whether our institution has an adequate quality assurance system in place to safeguard the quality of education. The committee also raised questions about diversity within our institution.

The NVAO panel conducts this quality assessment based on so-called standards. The university needs to successfully meet each of these standards in order to receive a ‘positive institutional audit decision.’ During that first visit in October, the committee members obtained a great deal of information from a variety of TU/e representatives.

The committee’s second visit will take place at the end of November, and based on the first visit, four areas of focus were selected. These are: quality agreements (‘how does the university spend the money from the basic grant on the improvement of education’), past performance (‘how did the university perform in recent years’), the impact of growth in student numbers, and how is diversity rooted in TU/e policy.

Since the latter issue lies within my field of interest, I was asked to sit, during the initial exploratory meeting, on one of the student panels that focused on diversity. We had prepared a number of talking points, but it turned out that the committee members had their own approach concerning this issue, which led to some stimulating discussions.

Concrete actions

One of the issues we raised was that even though our administrators continuously stress the importance of supporting diversity, they fail to act concretely. Think of the Centralized Selection Regulations for example, which states (in Dutch) that the extent in which someone’s socio-economic background has an influence on admittance to programs with a ceiling on student numbers will be investigated. That’s a good thing, we don’t want to exclude specific groups at our university! In practice, however, this is not being investigated because the data can’t be collected for privacy reasons.

As far as our board’s further vision on diversity is concerned: it is noteworthy that the discussion often focusses on gender and nationality, and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important that our university offers people of all nationalities and with every gender identity an equal place. But it’s a shame that diversity with regard to learning methods, religion, educational background, talent, personality and so much more is often disregarded. Does the university investigate and stimulate these kinds of diversity? If so, how?

Target figures

And when we talk about nationality and gender, the focus usually lies exclusively on percentages and target figures. But what’s it really like to be a minority at TU/e? How do we make sure that those female students and staff members we’re so keen to attract also decide to stay at our university?

Committee chairman Ramses Wessel said that this was the first time a meeting on this subject took longer than planned. To us, this was an indication that the committee members found the discussions interesting. And this is also confirmed by the fact that diversity is a focal point during the second visit at the end of November. Two of our faction members are now looking at ways to solve the problem of a lack of concrete actions concerning diversity.

The first thing we think should be done, is to set up a university-wide diversity project team composed of students and staff members from different services. Currently, the issue of diversity has been delegated to professor and Diversity Officer Eva Demerouti. Such a project team will make sure that the specific impact of future processes and policy documents on diversity will be sufficiently considered.

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